Sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus)

Sand tiger shark swimming
IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable VULNERABLE

Top facts

  • A sand tiger shark’s teeth are still visible even when its mouth is closed.
  • Sand tiger sharks have receptive pores on the underneath of their snout which detect electric currents in the water.
  • The sand tiger shark is the only species of shark known to swallow air at the surface and store it in its stomach to provide buoyancy.
  • Sand tiger sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning that the pups hatch out of the eggs whilst still inside the female's reproductive system.
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Sand tiger shark fact file

Sand tiger shark description

GenusCarcharias (1)

This stocky shark has a conical nose and a slightly flattened head (3). It is a dark brown or beige colour above, with blotches of darker colour, and paler underneath (4). The teeth of this species are especially distinctive, having a fang-like appearance and being visible even when the mouth is shut (5). There are two dorsal fins, which are a similar size to the anal fin; the upper lobe of the tail is larger than the lower one (3). Sharks have a sixth sense that enables them to detect electric currents, and the receptive pores are located on the under surface of the sand tiger's snout (5).

Also known as
Grey nurse shark.
Requin Taureau.
Toro Bacota.
Length: 3.2 m (max) (2)
159 kg (max) (2)

Sand tiger shark biology

The sand tiger shark is one of the best-studied of the shark species. They are the only sharks known to gulp air at the surface and store it in their stomach to provide buoyancy (2). These sharks generally mate between October and November and courtship can take a long time, with the male aggressively nipping his potential mate (3). Females are ovoviviparous, giving birth to two large pups every two years. Pups hatch out of their eggs within the oviduct of the mother's reproductive system, one in each oviduct, and then feed on eggs that the female continues to produce (6). Over nine months to a year, the pups grow within their mother feeding on hundreds to thousands of eggs (6) and, by the time they are born, measure up to a metre long (3).

During the day they are found near caves and ledges (5), hovering just above the surface either singly or in small groups (3). These fairly docile sharks are sluggish and, despite a ferocious reputation, feed mainly on fish (5).


Sand tiger shark range

A widespread range encompasses all subtropical and tropical oceans (6), with the possible exception of the eastern Pacific (2).

See this species on Google Earth.


Sand tiger shark habitat

Inhabits shallow coastal waters from the surf zone to a depth of 60 metres (5).


Sand tiger shark status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Sand tiger shark threats

This species of shark is particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to its low reproduction rate (2). Despite a widespread distribution, populations are now isolated and, where there is data available, the species is thought to be in decline. In the past, the sand tiger shark has been hunted throughout its range, and the flesh is particularly prized in Japan (3). The oil and fins are also in demand; in the 18th and 19th Centuries the shark was persecuted in large numbers for its liver oil that was used in lighting (7). Individuals tend to group in coastal areas at certain times of the year, making them especially vulnerable to fishing (3).


Sand tiger shark conservation

Despite protection in some countries such as Australia (2) and the United States (3), this species appears to be in decline (2). Management plans urgently need to be implemented in order to safeguard the future of these elegant coastal dwellers.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the sand tiger shark see:



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Anal fin
In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
Dorsal fin
In fish, the unpaired fin found on the back of the body.
Method of reproduction whereby the egg shell is weakly formed and young hatch inside the mother; they are nourished by their yolk sac and then born.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2009)
  2. Fishbase (July, 2002)
  3. National Marine Fisheries Service (July, 2002)
  4. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. Australian Museum (July, 2002)
  6. Bannister, K. (1989) The Book of the Shark. Quintet Publishing Ltd, London.
  7. Sydney Aquarium (July, 2002)

Image credit

Sand tiger shark swimming  
Sand tiger shark swimming

© Andy Murch /


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